The Rack: Luke Mogelson, "Which way did the Taliban go?" (NYT Magazine).
Clashes between the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan and Ansar al-Islam militant groups broke out in the Khyber Tribal Agency on Friday, continued through the weekend and were still ongoing Monday, resulting in the deaths so far of almost 60 people, most of whom are being identified as militants (Dawn, ET, AP, The News). Fighting between the two groups began when the TTP captured an Ansar al-Islam base on Friday, prompting Ansar fighters to attempt to retake the base by force.
Bus services and trade across the Line of Control dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir resumed on Monday, after being suspended on January 10 following some of the worst cross-border violence in a decade (AP, NDTV, Dawn, AFP). And Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Bismullah Khan Mohammadi arrived in Pakistan on Sunday for five days of talks, beginning with a meeting with Pakistan's Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Rawalpindi on Monday (Dawn, ET).
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the middle of a public square in northern Afghanistan's Kunduz City on Saturday, killing 10 policemen, including the head of the police counterterrorism department, Abdullah Zemarai, and the head of the traffic police, Sayyed Aslam Sadat (NYT, CNN, BBC, AFP). Later on Saturday, a police truck carrying officers and detainees hit a roadside bomb in Kandahar City, killing 10 of those on board (AP, BBC, ). The police had driven to a residential area of the city to inspect a bomb discovered there; they detained three suspects and were returning to headquarters when they hit the buried explosive.
The Afghan government has criticized a United Nations report about widespread and systematic torture of detainees in Afghan-run prisons, inviting Afghan reporters into the detention centers to view the facilities and interview some detainees (NYT). President Hamid Karzai has also appointed an official commission to investigate the findings in the report.
Changed our minds
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense spent $50,000 to buy and destroy the first 10,000 copies of a book on the Afghan war entitled Operation Dark Heart, saying the book contained classified information (NYT). Almost three years later, censors at the Pentagon now say 198 of the 400 passages that they previously forced author Anthony Shaffer to delete are actually fine to print.
-- Jennifer Rowland
New Post: Javid Ahmad, "Afghanistan's special forces are a bastion of hope" (FP).
Murder charges against the owners of factory in Karachi where a fire killed 259 people last year were dropped on Thursday, reportedly at the request of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, in a move that both the public and government officials have decried (NYT, ET). The Prime Minister's office sought to clarify the situation later Thursday, with Ashraf's press secretary Shafqat Jalil telling the Express Tribune that Ashraf had asked provincial officials to take another look at the case to determine if the factory owners had been falsely implicated (ET).
Things got even worse for the Prime Minister on Thursday, when the Supreme Court ordered the National Accountability Bureau to submit their evidence that Ashraf, along with Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the Pakistan People's Party Secretary General Jehangir Badar, had illegally appointed Tauqeer Sadiq as the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, and then helped Sadiq flee the country after he allegedly embezzled 83 billion rupees ($850 million) (ET, ET, DT).
Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said Thursday at the World Economic Forum that he is confident his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), will sweep Pakistan's upcoming elections, because "people want a change," and alleged that the current regime is waging a propaganda war that aims to discredit PTI (AP).
The murder of a middle class young man in one of Karachi's wealthiest neighborhoods has sparked anger in Pakistan against the upper class, members of which often get away with wrongdoing through bribery or by twisting police and officials' arms (AP). Shehzab Khan was allegedly gunned down by two men from two of Karachi's wealthiest families after having an argument with one of their servants, and most of Karachi's residents do not expect justice to be served.
A car bomb in the eastern Afghan province of Kapisa thought to have been targeting a NATO convoy killed at least five civilians and wounded 25 others on Friday (VOA, BBC, AP). The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Books and bonds
Despite vocal protests from the right wing in India, the Jaipur Literary Festival began Thursday with three celebrated Pakistani writers (NYT). Some were angered by calls to ban Pakistanis from the festival, but one of the Pakistani authors in attendance, M. A. Farooqi, said in an interview, "If the basis of the objection is a tragic incident that caused grief and pain and people are expressing their grief by saying that we are no longer in a welcoming mood - I respect that."
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
New Post: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, "America's non-committal relationship with Afghanistan" (FP).
Guilty until proven innocent
Pakistan's Attorney General Irfan Qadir told the country's Supreme Court on Thursday that the security forces are holding some 700 suspected militants without charging them, under a controversial law that has been condemned by human rights organizations (AP, AFP, Dawn). The admission came during a hearing on seven suspected militants who had been held by Pakistan's intelligence agency since May 2010 and who say they were abused during their detention.
The United Nations will reportedly launch an investigation into the use of drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Palestine to assess the extent of civilian casualties in different types of strikes and the legality of the strikes in countries where the UN has not officially recognized a conflict (Guardian). The inquiry will be led by Ben Emmerson QC, a UN special rapporteur who ha previously said that "double tap" strikes, in which a drone fires a second round at a target when rescuers have arrived on the scene, could constitute "war crimes."
Officials in India-administered Kashmir on Monday published an advisory in a local English-language magazine detailing how locals should prepare for nuclear war (AJE, AFP). In an editorial on Tuesday, the newspaper called the advisory "ill-timed and inopportune," as India and Pakistan come off a tense period following several skirmishes at the Line of Control that divides Kashmir.
Over 100 children died of measles in Pakistan in less than three weeks at the beginning of this year, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to call it "an alarming outbreak" on Wednesday (AFP, ET). Many affected residents blame the government for failing to carry out an effective and extensive vaccination program.
Spiderman of Sukkur
The town of Sukkur in Pakistan's Sindh Province has its very own Spiderman, but this diminutive wall-climber saves lives in a different way (ET ). Calling himself Raees "don," he charges students 500 Rupees to deliver completed tests by scaling the back wall of a local school, slipping through a window, and placing the documents right onto the student's desk.
-- Jennifer Rowland
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
Press Release: MANHUNT, a documentary based on Peter Bergen's book by the same name is showing at the 2013 Sundance Festival (NAF).
New Post: Candace Rondeaux, "Afghanistan's colossal intelligence failure" (FP).
No trouble here
Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Allen has been cleared of any wrongdoing following a Pentagon investigation into potentially inappropriate email communications with a Tampa socialite connected to the scandal surrounding Gen. David Petraeus' resignation (Reuters, Post, AP, CNN, ). The allegations against Gen. Allen caused the White House to put on hold his nomination to become supreme allied commander in Europe.
In a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Richard Olson on Tuesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar voiced her concern about reports that the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan is to be exempt from the United States' codified rules governing targeted killing (ET).
Militants in the tribal agency of South Waziristan on Wednesday dumped the mutilated body of a purported Afghan spy, Asmatullah Kharoti, accused by the militants of helping to coordinate U.S. drone strikes (AFP). A note on the body accused Kharoti of collaborating on specific strikes, saying, "he is responsible for the killing of five of our senior members, including Mullah Nazir, in drone attacks. He confessed that he installed chips in digital Korans."
An explosion in the nearby Orakzai tribal agency on Wednesday killed five suspected militants who were believed to have been building an improvised explosive device (IED) (Dawn). And four tribesmen were gunned down in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday, possibly due to their membership in an anti-militant militia (Dawn).
Not playing games
The All Pakistan DC, DVD, Audio Cassette Traders and Manufacturers Association has ordered that two popular video games, "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" and "Medal of Honor: Warfighter" be removed from shelves of game stores across the country (Tel). The move was prompted when shop owners complained that the games portrayed Pakistan, and particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, as supporting al-Qaeda and other militant jihadist organizations.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Alex Wong/Getty Images
The Obama administration is reportedly close to finishing the codification of its drone policies in a "playbook" that delineates clear rules governing the use of targeted killing around the world, but declares the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan exempt from these restrictions (Post).
A lawyer for Pakistan's intelligence agency told the country's Supreme Court on Monday that the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) held seven suspected militants who were sought by the court for a year and a half without sufficient evidence to try them (AP). The admission is likely to heighten concerns in Pakistan of human rights abuses perpetrated by the security establishment under the guise of counterterrorism efforts.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani said at a press conference in Abu Dhabi on Friday that Pakistan plans to release all of its remaining Taliban detainees, including former deputy leader of the Taliban Mullah Baradar, in an effort to support the reconciliation process in Afghanistan (Reuters, AJE, AP, NYT). And the family of an official who was found dead in his home last week while investigating corruption charges against Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf is calling for an inquiry into his death (BBC, AJE).
Five Taliban suicide bombers stormed the headquarters of the traffic police in Kabul early on Monday morning, starting a firefight that was followed by a remotely detonated car bomb that allowed them to rush into the compound (NYT, AP, Tel, LAT, AJE, Guardian, CNN, BBC). A battle between the insurgents and security forces lasted until just after 2PM, with all of the insurgents and at least three traffic officers reported dead.
A report released by the United Nations on Sunday found that despite a year of efforts to stem incidences of torture in Afghan prisons, abuse of detainees at the hands of the Afghan police forces has risen (NYT, AP, BBC, Guardian, LAT, WSJ). More than half of Afghanistan's 635 conflict-related detainees reported abuses such as being hung by their wrists from the ceiling, severely beaten with cables and rods given electric shocks, and threatened with sodomy.
Kabul's malodorous pollution
Air pollution in Kabul is a serious problem, and one that is often blamed on the city's poor sewage system; one municipal official declared in 2007 that the city "has the highest level of fecal matter in the atmosphere in the world" (NYT). The head of the United Nations Environment Program in Kabul calls that an urban legend, and says, "I think the need by diplomats for danger-pay raises is what has kept reports of fecal matter danger very high."
-- Jennifer Rowland
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Violent protests broke out across Pakistan Friday as the country marked a national holiday, entitled "love of Prophet Muhammad day," created to encourage peaceful protests of the anti-Islam film that has roiled the Muslim world for over a week (NYT, AP, ET, Dawn, Reuters, Tel, BBC). Police in Peshawar shot and killed a television station employee as he drove through a crowd of demonstrators armed with sticks, who were attacking movie theaters and burning posters of female movie stars. A police officer in Lahore died of his injuries after clashing with demonstrators who were attempting to march on the U.S. Consulate building there, and police in Islamabad quickly ran out of rubber bullets as they tried to repel thousands of protesters heading for the U.S. Embassy.
The U.S. State Department has launched Urdu-language advertisements on Pakistani television channels condemning the incendiary film (Reuters, AP, AFP). Pakistan's Foreign Office summoned acting U.S. Ambassador Richard Hoagland on Friday to demand that the U.S. government remove the film from YouTube and take action against the people who produced it (Dawn).
A two-person United Nations investigative team pressed the Pakistani government to do more on the issue of forced disappearances on Thursday, at the end of a ten-day research trip during which the team met with government officials and around 100 people who say their relatives have been illegally detained by the government, and in some cases tortured or even killed (NYT, AP, Dawn). But the country's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and paramilitary Frontier Corps, which have been accused of being behind many of the disappearances, refused to meet with the UN delegates.
The U.S. military on Friday completed the withdrawal of the 33,000 "surge" troops ordered by President Barack Obama in December 2009, bringing the number of American forces left in Afghanistan to 68,000 (NYT, AFP). The milestone was not marked by a statement from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan or from the Afghans themselves.
Meanwhile, the Times reported Thursday that President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai made significant progress in resolving a dispute over the rules for indefinitely holding suspected terrorists without trial, during a video call on Wednesday night (NYT). President Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi said the two leaders "got very specific on the details regarding the 650-plus Afghan prisoners," who the U.S. military has refused to hand over to the Afghans for fear that they will not continue to be held without trial.
President Karzai made changes to the leadership of almost a third Afghanistan's 34 provinces on Thursday, including the firing of five provincial governors, as part of a decree issued by Karzai two months ago to crack down on nepotism and corruption (Reuters). The changes likely replace powerful local leaders with ones more loyal to the Karzai regime.
Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool complained to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that the shelling of Afghan villages by Pakistan's Army threatens bilateral relations between the two countries, and must be stopped (Reuters).
Display of civilizations
As a Western-made anti-Islam film sparks outrage across the Muslim world, the Louvre Museum in Paris will open a new wing dedicated entirely to Islamic art this weekend (BBC). Over a decade in the making, the exhibit was funded in part by the French government, and contains some 2,500 objects from multiple centuries and regions.
-- Jennifer Rowland
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
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BY ISAAC STONE FISH
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BY COLUM LYNCH